A day's worth of games, a notebook full of observations. Time to bullet the blue sky.
• To be a successful fantasy owner you have to be willing to constantly ask "why not?" when your opponents are saying "why bother?" And with that in mind, it's time to reopen the Alex Smith file, at least for the benefit of anyone in a deep and competitive league (if you‘re in an 8-teamer with the temps in the office, I‘m not writing to you).
Smith was brilliant in a relief effort at Houston on Sunday, throwing for 206 yards and three scores in a half of play, and the wonderfully decisive Mike Singletary has already named Smith the starter going forward (thanks for the memories, Shaun Hill(notes)). Smith is a former No. 1 overall selection, remember, and the man the Niners preferred to Aaron Rodgers(notes) back in 2005. He's had a few years to learn the game, reflect, get knocked down a bit. Anyone in a two-QB group needs to make Smith a bid and waiver priority this week, and we should also consider Smith as a possible fill-in guy as we navigate through the remainder of the pesky bye weeks.
The Niners have tried to establish a running identity but don't be surprised if things shift to a passing focus out of necessity in the next few weeks. The San Francisco offensive line has played dreadfully all year and it's much easier to mask a poor line in the passing game. And if Smith can remain on his feet, people should be open downfield – Vernon Davis(notes) is turning into a star overnight (three scores Sunday) and Michael Crabtree(notes) looked surprisingly polished in his NFL debut (five catches, and he's already played plenty of pitch-and-catch with Smith).
The upcoming schedule should also steer the Niners to a passing tint – they'll be playing catchup at Indianapolis next week and the horrendous Tennessee secondary waits for Week 9. And if Smith keeps his (undersized) hands on this starting gig, he can look forward to getting the Jags in Week 12 and the Lions in Week 16.
• The Saints didn't play anywhere near their best game at Miami (on either side of the ball) and still they hung 46 points on the board. That's pretty scary. The Dolphins helped the cause, of course, by prematurely junking their running game early in the fourth quarter; Tony Sparano panicked when his team got behind three points and there was no reason for it. (The Ricky Williams(notes) lesson: mileage is more important than age when it comes to considering veteran backs. Sorry about that, Southeast Jerome.)
• Steve Smith got his 99 yards in Carolina's loss but that doesn't get him on the upgrade list; given that the Panthers threw 44 passes in this game and Smith complained about his role all during the week, a nine-point effort is nothing to throw a parade over. Basically he was the No. 15 receiver this week for PPR and No. 19 in a traditional format. Big deal.
John Fox is apparently giving some thought to benching Jake Delhomme. My gut says Fox will stick with Delhomme for at least a few more games but I would boost Smith's value if A.J. Feeley(notes) gets a chance to play. Forget Matt Moore(notes), he's already shown his ability to kill a deep passing game.
• The Texans might as well go the Reggie Bush(notes) route with Steve Slaton(notes); you can do a lot with Slaton in the passing game but he's a mess between the tackles. And with Slaton battling ball-security problems, it makes more sense to have him running away from the scrum.
• Rashard Mendenhall(notes) had a passable line against the Vikings (10 carries, 69 yards) but the flow of the game drained his opportunities – the Steelers spent the fourth period running back touchdowns on defense. Mendenhall also learned a key lesson during his red-zone fumble – don't go airborne while carrying the ball unless you absolute have to.
• The Roy Williams injury in Week 4 turned out to be a huge break for the Cowboys – Miles Austin(notes) got a chance to start at Kansas City the following Sunday and the rest is history. It also raises a question about the Dallas training camp – did the Cowboys coaching staff botch it with Austin, failing to see his potential despite daily interaction, or was Austin so terrible this summer that Wade Phillips had no choice but to demote him? We're outsiders to the story and can only speculate but I'll say this – I'm not the type of person to give Wade Phillips the benefit of the doubt.
• Joseph Addai's(notes) bad year has been quietly useful for fantasy purposes – five touchdowns, 27 catches. Location, location, location. Addai isn't one of the Top 20 real-life backs in the league right now, not even close, but Peyton Manning's(notes) offense keeps him afloat.
• Let's not get too excited about that Sam Aiken(notes) long touchdown – not every opponent will escort you to the end zone like the Buccaneers do. That secondary consistently takes bad angles and is allergic to tackling.
• The "let's get LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) a touchdown" charade at Kansas City was a little embarrassing, it almost had a youth-league game feel to it. The setup couldn't be any better for Philip Rivers(notes) going forward: the Bolts can no longer run it effectively in the scoring area; the San Diego defense has major problems; and Rivers has several dangerous targets to work with (Jackson, Gates, Sproles, even Floyd).
• This is what Moose Johnston offered the viewers after Brett Favre(notes) threw a pick-6 at Pittsburgh: "I betcha Brett Favre would like to have that play back." Remember, Moose is a professional, kids. We're not.
• Kellen Winslow(notes) has been invisible in four of his last five games and the Bucs will probably look at Josh Freeman(notes) shortly, perhaps after the bye. Winslow would be a Top 5 tight end in the right offense, but this supporting cast makes him just about unstartable right now. Forget what Winslow did against the Eagles; the Philadelphia defense is utterly powerless to mark opposing tight ends.
• If there's a smarter receiver in the game than Wes Welker(notes), you‘ll have to introduce me to him. A lot of the Tom Brady(notes) slump earlier in the year was tied to the absence of Welker, who sets up so much of what this team does (the Patriots run some beautiful combination routes; when you see Randy Moss(notes) running free over the middle, it's often because of an adjacent Welker route that set things up). Welker also loves to run a one-man pick play where he uses the official as his screen.
So when an ordinary player like Julian Edelman(notes) comes around and makes a few nice catches for a week or two, don't be short-sighted and compare him to Welker. You're comparing apples and lawnmowers.
• There's a considerable amount of luck with touchdowns that come on defense, but to some, luck is an art. Darren Sharper's(notes) making a nice Hall of Fame push with his big-play instincts, and it's amazing that the New Orleans defense stayed fantasy-available in so many pools into Week 7. And credit the Steelers for fantastic downfield blocking on their two scores against Minnesota; this unit has its teeth back in now that Troy Polamalu(notes) has returned to action.
• When you're in a must-pass situation and behind late in a game, there's no need to bother with play-action fakes (I'm looking at you, Miami). The defense isn't falling for it. You're just wasting your quarterback's time and giving him less of a window to be successful.
• Quiz Answer: Hartline is the only receiver to score a touchdown against Buffalo in 2009.
• Okay, I give, I'm now on Twitter with the rest of you. I have no idea how often I'll be tweeting, but I wanted to at least make it clear that there's only one place for my presence on that site: @scott_pianowski. Any other Twitter person claiming to be me is a sad and lonely imposter. So that's that. Stop on by.